The UK’s ‘dirty money’
Author and investigative journalist Oliver Bullough joins host Tom Tugendhat MP to discuss ‘dirty money’, the illicit wealth stolen by kleptocrats and criminals which is then laundered and invested in the UK. They consider whether the UK Government has done enough to tackle money laundering, illicit finance and the organised crime which the money enables.
In the second part of the episode, fellow parliamentarians Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Keven Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton and a member of the Treasury Committee, discuss how the laundering of ‘dirty money’ in the UK affects individuals and how the war in Ukraine has had a clear impact on political will to action change.
The Foreign Affairs Committee will publish a report on illicit finance by the end of June 2022.
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Tom Tugendhat: Welcome to Committee Corridor, where away from the heat of the Commons chamber, select committees carry out quieter, but no less important work of holding the government to account for its decisions and questioning people behind those decisions, working out what the issues of the day are and what they mean to us all.
We like to think of ourselves as constructive critics of the government. And we
monitor departments pressing for action and proposing new ideas - criticising when needed and sometimes even supporting.
Now, I’m Tom Tugendhat. I chair the Foreign Affairs Committee and you’re listening to the fourth episode of our new podcast, Committee Corridor, which provides an insight into how committees work and what they try to achieve in Westminster.
Today, we’re hearing about dirty money, illicit wealth stolen by kleptocrats and criminals which is then laundered and sometimes invested here in the United Kingdom.
Now the Foreign Affairs Committee first started looking at this just after I took over the chair in 2017 and we published a report in 2018 called Moscow’s Gold. This followed the poisoning of two innocent Russians in Salisbury by Russian agents and the murder of a British citizen.
We warned then that turning a blind eye to the problem would risk signalling to President Putin that the UK was not serious about confronting his aggression. Has the government done enough on this issue? When Russia invaded Ukraine, we went back for a second look. You can read our report on illicit finance, coming out very soon.
In a moment, we’ll hear from two parliamentarians who have been examining the issue. Chris Bryant is the Labour MP for the Rhondda and one of the driving forces behind the Foreign Affairs Committee’s 2018 inquiry and report. And Kevin Hollinrake, who’s the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton and a member of the Treasury Committee, which has been looking at the government’s efforts to crack down on illicit finance and the impact of sanctions.
But before that, I wanted to hear from someone who has spent years digging into where kleptocrats make their money and where they hide it. Author and investigative journalist, Oliver Bullough, has written books on this very subject. Most recently he published Butler to the World. And before that, Moneyland, why thieves and crooks now rule the world and how to take it back.
He also very kindly contributed to our work back in 2018 and has given evidence before the committee on a few occasions.
Tom Tugendhat: London has been referred to as a laundromat, washing clean the dirty money that you and I have been speaking about, sadly, for rather too long; of criminals and kleptocrats, who have stolen it off people in places like Russia and, of course, in Ukraine. In terms of money flow, can you give me an estimate as to how much is going through London and compare it to places like New York?
Oliver Bullough: The estimate that the National Crime Agency uses is a hundred billion with a B, pounds move through the city every year. On top of that, there’s money laundered from domestic criminals as well, but a hundred billion of international capital flows. Obviously, by the fact that essentially that’s a one with eight zeros after it, we can tell that that’s a very, very vague finger in the air figure, but it’s pretty clear that we’re talking about a huge amount of money. You know, that is a fraction of the illicit money flows, that’s London’s great advantage over smaller financial centres that you can hide the illegal money and this huge flow of, you know, legal money.
Compared to New York? New York obviously has big illicit money flows as well, but it wouldn’t be anything like that amount, for the simple reason that New York has essentially an effective enforcement mechanism in the FBI and other state bodies who do prosecute banks and other institutions for laundering money in a way that just doesn’t happen in this country.
So if you’re a sensible criminal and let’s face it, most sort of top-end criminals are pretty sensible. You wouldn’t launder your money through New York, just because you’re more likely to get caught. Why do it through New York when you’ve got a perfectly good alternative in London where you’re not going to get caught?
Tom Tugendhat: I mean that’s a really damning criticism of our laws and our institutions, but recently Parliament passed some new laws to start to tackle some of the loopholes. Do you think we went far enough? What do you think we should be doing next? Because, apart from legislation, one of the things that keeps coming up is the funding of our crime agencies and their ability to launch prosecutions and actually to win cases simply because they’re unresourced.
Oliver Bullough: Yeah, so I’m not criticising our laws at all. To be honest, our laws are pretty good. I mean, they’re probably even better than the Americans. We’ve had some really innovative and quite important powers like unexplained wealth orders that allow, you know, investigative agencies to cut through the offshore obfuscation around criminal wealth and really get to the core of who actually owns it. The problem, as you say, is the fact that these laws are not enforced because the National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office and the various territorial police services just don’t have anything like - they don’t have a fraction of the resources they need to do the job we’re asking them to do.
You know, a clear example of that was this case brought by the NCA, using an unexplained wealth order against Dariga Nazarbayeva, and her son Nurali Aliyev - the daughter and grandson of the former president of Kazakhstan.
They wanted to show that some property that they owned was illicitly acquired and were roundly humiliated by Dariga Nazarbayeva’s lawyers, simply because, you know let’s be blunt, they were able to afford much better lawyers than the National Crime Agency was.
And that is a problem that has come up again and again and again, that the NCA, and to a certain extent, the Serious Fraud Office have been essentially bringing “a pea shooter to a gunfight” - to use the memorable metaphor of Tom Keatinge. They just don’t have the tools they need to engage with this fight and until you prepare to engage with dirty money as seriously and attack it as kleptocrats will defend it, then you’re always going to lose.
Tom Tugendhat: One of the things you spoke about there was unexplained wealth orders. That’s obviously been an important element of the sanctions used, or rather, planned to be used against various individuals, but actually the sanctions have been on top of that. Do you think that the sanctions are working? Do you think sanctions are making any difference at all in places like Russia, where you worked for so long?
Oliver Bullough: The sanctions are good and important. From the response of the Russians to these sanctions and previous sanctions, including the various Magnitsky laws that have been brought in, we know that they hurt because the Russians get so cross about them. My problem with sanctions is that they should be, you know, the cherry on the cake. They should be the superdrive button on the dashboard of the spaceship. They can’t be the whole picture. They are reactive rather than proactive and so you’re essentially always waiting for a crime to be committed and money to be stolen and laundered before you take action against it.
What I would like to see would be a far larger, better-resourced, you know, more coherent system taking on money laundering and financial crime. And then when something spills out of control, as it has done in Ukraine, you have sanctions as an additional tool, you know, when you need that little bit extra. At the moment, you know, governments, and this isn’t just a criticism of our government, it has happened across the Atlantic and in and in the EU as well. Governments are turning to sanctions as the first tool in the toolbox, and essentially the last tool, when they really should be that, that final cherry on the cake, rather than the whole cake.
Tom Tugendhat: You spoke there about sanctions on individuals, but what about actions against UK enablers? This is something that we’ve also seen - various law firms, various estate agencies, various financial services providers who seem to be more than willing to turn a blind eye in a rather more loose fashion, than others. I mean, there are certainly many institutions in the city that have a fantastic record of checking and being extremely compliant and making sure that they are not enablers. There are one or two others who seem to be a little bit more relaxed with their attitudes. Do you think a few well- targeted actions could make a difference against British people, not just against others who are trying to use their services?
Oliver Bullough: It’s an absolutely crucial point. And most of the expense of complying with anti-money laundering laws is dumped onto the private sector and it’s very expensive. And as you say, a lot of big companies do a lot of important work to try and keep this money out. But why do they do that? They mainly do that because they’re terrified of the American Department of Justice, because when the DOJ sues companies, it often does it with, you know, billion-dollar fines. And that’s the kind of thing that focuses anyone’s mind.
The challenge is what do you do with the smaller companies? The companies that don’t have a presence in the US, don’t care about the DOJ. We need to have an equivalently robust regulatory and enforcement response in this country to take on the law firms, the estate agents, as you mentioned, you know, the other enablers who move this money and accept the money and invest the money in the UK economy.
Because the basic principle is the reason kleptocrats and criminals steal money is because they can keep it and enjoy it. And so we need to try and change that calculation. We need to make it much harder for them to keep the money. We need to put a doubt in their mind about whether they’re going to be able to keep the money. And then they won’t steal it in the first place. And that will undermine the entire business model of the Kremlin and of other kleptocratic regimes around the world and give democracy a chance to develop in those countries in a way that it simply doesn’t have at the moment, because it is so easy to be a kleptocrat because of the enabling services to a large extent of, well, the City of London.
Tom Tugendhat: Well, that was really very well set out in your recent book, Butler to the World, in which you highlighted the various different talents, which the UK can sometimes offer in rather unscrupulous ways. But this isn’t just about us. How do you think we can work with allies, to close down some of these actions?
Oliver Bullough: We do have, thanks to President Biden in the White House, an important ally who has really prioritised this topic. There are also some other countries, the Netherlands in particular, which are taking this very seriously as are, you know, to a certain extent, New Zealand and Australia. And all of those would be, you know, places that it’s really important to exchange best practice with, to exchange information with and so on.
But we can’t rely on allies too much, partly because it’s very difficult to make foreign evidence stand up in a UK court. They tend to be very suspicious of evidence coming from abroad in cases like this. And partly because that leaves us at the mercy of foreign political processes. You know, I don’t think it’s any secret that Joe Biden’s predecessor in the White House was less enthusiastic about these kind of cases than Biden is. And if, you know, Mr. Trump were to return to the White House, then you would see that whole wing of our strategy falling apart. What I would really like to see would be yes, use allies and work with allies where that’s possible, but build a really robust system at home, which we can then use as best practice and help, you know, try and influence our allies to follow.
But we shouldn’t be waiting for other countries to do the right thing when we know very well what the right thing is, and we should be doing it at home. There is no other country that has such a big enabling industry as the UK. That’s a sad fact but it’s a fact. And if we were to reduce the size of our enabling industry of the amount of money being laundered here, just by a bit, by five per cent, that would have a huge impact on the global criminal economy. And that is something that we can do on our own without having to wait for anyone else. And, you know, and that is something that we should be hopeful about. That’s a really empowering thought and you know, I’d love it if, if the government were to crack on and take that seriously.
Tom Tugendhat: Well, as you know, we’ve been working on this since 2017, actually, when I first took the chair of the committee. And we’ve been taking it on because fraud is not just how people launder money - and there is a strong element of fraud within this - but it’s also because of the effect that it has on the British people. This isn’t just about undermining security or stealing off the Russian people or whoever else around the world. It’s actually also corrupting and undermining us here at home. Can you talk a little bit about where you see the threats to UK national security and what this financial fraud is doing to us here at home?
Oliver Bullough: It’s such an important point. I mean, you know, just in what seems like a small example, compared to the sort of grand national security threat. You know, fraud now, common or garden fraud - losing 30 grand, 40 grand, people being defrauded of their life savings, pensioners being targeted and so on. That is the most common crime now in the UK and it is growing all the time. You know, that is – it’s not a threat to national security, but it’s a real threat to ordinary people’s lives and wellbeing in a way that I don’t understand why that doesn’t have greater political salience.
But then, you know, at this sort of grand political level, the geopolitical level. You know, someone like Vladimir Putin, he has weaponized the networks of dirty money flows to move money between countries. Yes, partly so he can keep it and spend it on bling, but also, so he can keep it and spend it on, you know, undermining other countries’ electoral systems. We saw that in the United States in 2016 - or, you know, supporting friendly political parties as we’ve seen in France and Italy and Austria. You know, these are real threats to the stability and security of democracy in Western countries.
And we should be much more alert to them than we have been. Obviously your committee has done really important work on this. And we saw a great report from the Intelligence and Security Committee into Russian interference which had lots of good suggestions for things that can be done. And it’s really heartening to see MPs taking this issue seriously. And I’m hoping that when your next publications come out, that will help, you know, spread the gospel, as it were, even further in the House of Commons, so action becomes even more robust.
Tom Tugendhat: Well, we’re certainly going to keep pushing on this. As you say, this is, I think, a fundamental issue of British national security and one that it’s absolutely our responsibility to speak about. Now, I also say this is a huge issue for a UK fraud. And as you rightly say, it’s not just foreigners and it’s not just about other people. It’s about undermining the UK and, and spreading a corrupt practice that sees people defrauded out of tens, twenties, thousands of pounds of their own money.
But look, it’s taken a war to stimulate this crackdown. As you know, we’ve been pushing since 2018 and finally, we’ve got some action in 2022. How do you think that we can keep this going in the long-term? You’ve written about this, you’re raising the profile and very kindly talking to us again today. How do you think we can strengthen the political pressure on colleagues to make sure that we get the action that we need?
Oliver Bullough: Well, I do think there’s some really important political initiatives being taken. You know, Margaret Hodge and Kevin Hollinrake have been cooperating across party lines, as Margaret Hodge previously has with Andrew Mitchell. It’s very heartening to see that - this isn’t a party political point. We all care about ending fraud and protecting national security. So more of that, please, it’s wonderful.
But yet somehow, it’s a question of making sure that this remains a sort of front and centre in the press. And there is a small group of us, you know, journalists who work on this topic and we keep trying to come up with new ways of trying to catch the public’s imagination.
But this is a long haul. Disentangling the laundromat is going to take a long, long time. And I’m always heartened by a comment made by my friend, Daria Kaleniuk, who is an anti-corruption activist in Ukraine, an incredibly brave woman who when I asked her once how she doesn’t get disheartened, she says she doesn’t really think about it as defeating corruption. She thinks about going from four to five per cent. And once you’ve got to five per cent, you can think about getting to six. So that’s what I’m trying to think about. It’s just the small gains.
At the beginning of this year, things looked a bit bleak, but then, you know, thanks to what’s happened in Ukraine and thanks to the focussed minds, we got an Economic Crime Act, which has brought in transparency for shell companies which own property in the UK. We’re going to have another Economic Crime Bill, which will hopefully bring order to Companies House. Once we’ve got that, we can sit back, look for the next things we need to do, and then build on that. So, you know, there is hope and you know, there is progress, but it’s going to be a very long road. It’s not going to be something we can solve, sadly, in one session of parliament or one article or just one podcast, no matter how wonderful the podcast might be.
Tom Tugendhat: Oliver – thank you very much.
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Tom Tugendhat: I’m now joined by two colleagues. Chris Bryant is the Labour MP for the Rhondda and one of the driving forces behind the Foreign Affairs Committee’s 2018 inquiry and report.
And Kevin Hollinrake, he’s the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton and a member of the Treasury Committee, which has been looking at the Government’s efforts to crack down on money laundering and the impact of sanctions.
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Tom Tugendhat: Chris, we heard from Oliver Bullough about the importance of enforcement as the long-term solution, rather than just sanctions. He spoke about sanctions as being really the cherry on the cake. What for you is the importance of sanctions against individuals? Is there value in sending them a political message, even if we can’t recoup the money and they don’t stop quite as much money as we hoped from flowing?
Chris Bryant: Well undoubtedly, we need to send as strong a message as is possible to, not just Putin and, and his closest allies, but to the whole of the Russian people. Not that we have a beef with the Russian people, but because we have a beef with the actions of the Russian regime.
I think we need to go a bit further in this country, not just in terms of freezing assets, but seizing assets and perhaps deploying them to some other purpose. In particular, Russian state assets - which I think we could do much more of. But it’s absolutely right – if there’s no enforcement, there’s no point in having the sanctions.
Tom Tugendhat: Kevin, one of the key elements you’ve been working on in your committee is not just the sanctions itself but also the enforcement elements of things like unexplained wealth orders. But also other forms of financial fraud that are corrupting the British system from different forms of flow. What do you think we could do more? Where are the issues with the enforcement agencies
Kevin Hollinrake: Well, there’s just not enough resources. Economic crime-fraud is about 40% of all crime. Yet we allocate less than 1 per cent of the budget towards tackling economic crime. And we’re not even clear how much is allocated. Actually, it’s all mixed in and one thing, we really think it should be ring-fenced so you can see exactly how much resources there are being applied to this.
But as well as enforcement, we also need to make it easier for our enforcement agencies to prosecute these crimes. It’s very, very difficult in the UK to prosecute fraud. The Serious Fraud Office has quite a poor record in prosecuting fraud. And making it easier – something called the identification principle - we want to see criminal liability made much easier to establish and to prosecute, and we want individuals potentially to go to jail. If you are in a bank or you’re running a bank and you fail to prevent this stuff from happening, are you willfully ignorant of this stuff happening in your bank? As we have seen, then that person should go to jail and that would have a huge impact in terms of the ability to prosecute fraud, the ability to enforce this stuff, but also it would be a much bigger deterrent in stopping it from happening in the first place.
Tom Tugendhat: That raises huge questions, of course, not just about the enforcement agencies, but some of the different groups in the United Kingdom, which are, in some cases, sadly, participating. We know of examples of law firms or estate agencies or accountancies, which have been in some ways involved. Have you looked at those areas as well?
Kevin Hollinrake: Yeah, there’s no doubt - I’ve got to be a bit careful, I was an estate agent at one point in my life, so… But yes, the enablers are absolutely complicit in this. I mean, we’ve seen some, some horrendous things, particularly in the financial services sector. I mean, NatWest only this year, were fined 245 million pounds for turning a blind eye to money laundering. They knew it was happening. But that’s just the cost of doing business, of course. And it is, and legal firms are exactly the same, and estate agents can be the same. Unless they really feel there’s going to be something that’s going to significantly affect them - and that to me means really that they personally will get prosecuted and potentially put in jail.
The best analogy I can give on this is the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974, which for the first time gave directors personal culpability if they didn’t prevent fatalities and serious injuries on their construction sites. And lo and behold, the 90 per cent reduction in the number of fatalities after that. So this is the kind of thing that would really focus the attention of the people who turn a blind eye to this stuff.
Tom Tugendhat: That’s quite a record of improvement of relatively simple change. Chris, you’ve also raised tier one investor visas as an area where the UK has turned a blind eye to various different issues. What progress have we seen since the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian state?
Chris Bryant: Well, the invasion started in 2014 as you know, so at the time, nothing. And in fact, one of the most shocking statistics I’ve seen is that of those who have now been sanctioned by the UK, ten are people who’ve been given golden tier one visas by the UK. In other words, we invited - people who were dodgy - dodgy finances - dodgy Russian money - closely associated to Putin - and yet, we invited them to come and live here, which is obviously a massive own goal. We’ve been arguing for a long time for getting rid of the tier one visas. I think there are now completely suspended, but we still haven’t seen the publication of the government’s report into this, which was due six months ago and completed more than a year ago.
And there’s one other point I’d make. You can’t be certain who owns what in this country, because Companies House has no power whatsoever to investigate the information that is given to it. In fact, it actually says on its website, that the information that is provided on the website about an individual company cannot be verified.
Tom Tugendhat: That comes back to the question of enforcement that we were talking about with Kevin. It’s quite noticeable, as Oliver mentioned earlier, that the main area of concern for many of these businesses is not whether the UK will enforce the rules, but whether the United States will. Chris, you’ve done quite a lot of work on looking at the comparisons as well. How do you see the US enforceability versus the UK?
Chris Bryant: Well, the US does spend more money on trying to tackle these issues. It was much swifter introducing sanctions. Oddly enough, when we left the European Union, we made it more difficult to sanction people in the UK. And it wasn’t until the secondary invasion this year of Ukraine that the British government suddenly brought through, in virtually emergency legislation, a provision which allows us in the UK simply to mirror sanctions that have already been introduced by the US, by Canada or by the European Union.
But some of the decisions I think in the UK have just been mysterious. I don’t understand why we took so long to sanction [Oleg] Deripaska when he’d already been sanctioned in the United States of America. And when a British member of the House of Lords was actually running the company for him.
Tom Tugendhat: Kevin, on your committee, you’ve not only got the responsibility of looking at financial sanctions, which we’ve already discussed, but also the regulations that can close down investment, that can dissuade people from putting their money in the UK, from using our services. Do you think that we’re getting the balance right? Or do you think we are doing too much to promote investment and not enough to curb economic crime and fraud?
Kevin Hollinrake: I think we’ve definitely got the balance wrong at the moment. I mean, the Treasury, of course, as you know, Tom, will always worry when you change anything that it will knock things out of kilter, and people will stop investing. I haven’t seen any evidence of that.
Whenever you legislate in this kind of area, the Bribery Act in 2010, for example, people thought, oh my God, people, businesses won’t invest. Your chief execs won’t want to be chief execs - there’s too much pressure on them because there’s a requirement for companies to prevent bribery within their organisations. That law came in, businesses adjusted to it, it didn’t stop investment, and things went on happily. It’s not something that keeps you awake at night. The requirement is to simply put the checks and balances in place.
So, I don’t think tightening up in these kinds of areas would affect investment. I think it would continue and I think the economy would prosper. I think if the public can see that the system’s cleaner and it works better and it’s fairer, I think it’s a very good thing for our economy. Not a bad thing.
Chris Bryant: I’d add one other thing about the housing market because the housing market, in particular in London and the Southeast is very, very attractive to people who want to launder money. It sounds like a bad deal if you buy a 10-million-pound house for 20 million pounds. But if the 20 million pounds were dodgy, you’ve managed to clean 10 million. So that’s a pretty good deal in money laundering terms.
One of the things that they’ve done in the Netherlands very recently, is that they have said that all new property that is built in Amsterdam cannot be rented out for the first four years. And that’s suddenly, and quite dramatically altered the pattern of overseas investment buying properties never to be lived in.
Tom Tugendhat: Well, that would make a huge difference to many areas of London in the Southeast. And I’m sure to other areas of the country as well.
This is one of the areas which I was going to come to actually, because this isn’t just about foreign crime, this isn’t just about Russians having their assets stolen by corrupt regimes and then laundered abroad, or indeed the effects of that corruption on destabilisation of the UK by funding different groups, political movements or whatever it happens to be around the world.
This is also of course about direct impact on us here in the UK. Where do you see that impact on your constituents most? Kevin, why don’t you start?
Kevin Hollinrake: Well, you see the direct impact, as you will, and Chris will, in terms of people getting money stolen out of their accounts, things like push payment fraud. These are organised criminal gangs that set about this. So there’s that kind of micro impact, which can be devastating if you lose tens of thousands of pounds out of your account, it can be devastating.
But there’s a much bigger picture as well. I mean, I think the National Crime Agency estimates something like 290 billion pounds it costs this economy every year, which is about 15% of GDP. So it’s massive, of course.
But also, the unseen part of this is the drug dealers, the people traffickers, all these people are facilitated by economic crime. And in fact, as you know, from your excellent work, Tom - in Africa, a huge amount of money is stolen from Africa, by despots, by kleptocrats who run those countries to the level that is twice the annual international aid budget to Africa. So the taxpayer, we’re putting money in, taxpayers are putting money in, provide aid to foreign nations at the same time the money’s disappearing out the back door. It’s not exactly the same money, but that money should be used there to rebuild those nations and make them prosperous so we have to, have to support them to a lesser degree, so it effectively keeps tax rates high. So it affects all our constituents all the time.
Tom Tugendhat: And Chris, what do you see?
Chris Bryant: Well, every constituency in the land, whether it’s as poor and as deprived as mine is, as a former mining constituency or a wealthy one in London and the South East faces the same set of problems in relation to drugs, in relation to people trafficking. You know, we imagine that people trafficking is just about women for prostitution, but quite often, it’s also about men being trafficked to work in subhuman situations on car washes and things like that.
And of course, if the City of London is a miracle for the UK, it can also be a very dangerous one because it’s where most of our pension funds are allocated and monitored and so on. And if any of those pension funds collapses because, they’ve been involved in dirty money and they ended up being investigated, that’s a problem for everybody in the country.
Kevin Hollinrake: Can I just add to that as well? There’s very good evidence, and we got some of this evidence before the Treasury select committee by sanctions experts, that had we cleaned up the system before, had we not facilitated economic crime, the war in Ukraine would never have happened because it has sustained Putin. The reason people will put up with Putin, the oligarchs in Russia, is because they can move their money out of Russia. Keeping it in Russia means that it’s not safe. Somebody can steal it off you. You can’t spend it on things you want to spend it on. You don’t have peace and security in that nation. And therefore people want to be elsewhere. So if they couldn’t move that money out, Putin probably wouldn’t be in power. People would not have been happy with the way he runs that country. And certainly, he couldn’t have produced the wealth he has, which sustains the war itself. So, you have real tangible effects, everyday effects to our citizens and those many citizens internationally.
Chris Bryant: And one of the things that we were told on the Foreign Affairs Committee, was that because we refused to take action about all of these issues that we’re talking about today, Putin felt emboldened because he saw the West as craven, corrupt, weak, impotent, and greedy.
Tom Tugendhat: So what more do you think we should be doing to encourage the Government to see the light on this? And do you think the political will is changing? We have quite clearly seen some changes in the last few months, since, as you rightly put it the second invasion of Ukraine began, Chris. But what more can we do? Kevin, perhaps you can kick us off.
Kevin Hollinrake: Ukraine has changed – it was a game-changer, which is terrible to say. But you’ll remember Lord Agnew, when he resigned, he commented that the Government have dropped the Economic Crime Bill. That was only in January of this year, only a few months ago. And that was before Ukraine, of course. And then all this changed when he invaded Ukraine. So we’ve got to make the most of this opportunity because this stuff would not be coming forward without that.
So, what we’ve got to do, is we’ve got to build a compelling case, which we are doing that, you’re doing that and your committee and the Treasury committee and also the all-party groups that put together this economic crime manifesto, and we’ve got to keep reinforcing that case. We’ve got to build a coalition of people and we’ve got one - cross-party, we all want to work together on this, we worked very effectively on the sanctions legislation. And then we’ve got to be just persistent. We’ve got to keep hammering the door down and persuading the government they should go further on all this stuff.
One of the key messages I’d like to see that we’ve got wrong at the moment, as well, is whistleblowing. All the evidence of wrongdoing in terms of economic crime, almost without exception, comes from whistleblowers, yet we don’t protect them, we don’t compensate them. And they have suffered devastating consequences of their actions by doing the right thing. So all this stuff we’ve got to get right.
Tom Tugendhat: Chris – go on, I know you’ve always got ideas to how to persuade the government to see the light.
Chris Bryant: Well, Companies House has got to be given proper powers to investigate the information that it has provided. It will need resources to be able to do that. I think all the various prosecuting authorities and investigating authorities need more resources because if an oligarch has a very deep pocket, he can pay a lawyer a very substantial amount to make sure that they never end up in court or never get their assets seized or, or even frozen. And so, you have to have - if there’s one 800-pound gorilla in the forest, you’ve got to have another one that has got to be there on the side of the government.
We’ve also got to deal with the backyard problem of Overseas Territories and they cannot be the kind of weak link in the UK British chain.
And I think we’ve got to tackle this issue of the housing market in London and the South East. I have no idea whether any estate agent is ever checked as to whether they’ve done the proper and legal checks when they sell a property. I have no idea.
Kevin Hollinrake: I can answer that for you, Chris – they are. We’ve had HMRC into our own company at times, but they don’t do it very often and they tend to target the big fish who would probably do it right in the first place as we did. But the ones that are likely to do it are likely to be the smaller fry and that goes, whether it’s… and solicitors can be the same as well. So, you’ve got to have – you’re absolutely right - much greater levels of enforcement, more resources, but also incentivize people who are willing to do the right thing and blow the whistle on this kind of stuff.
Tom Tugendhat: Well, look, thank you very much to both of you. It’s really good to have you on the podcast and to share your thoughts on illicit finance. Chris, thank you very much. Kevin, good to be with you.
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Thank you for joining us on this podcast. I’m Tom Tugendhat. I chair the Foreign Affairs Committee and you have been listening to Committee Corridor.